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My emotional and mental journey with cancer

Cancer Survivor Donna Jakowec

Donna Jakowec embraced running as part of her mental therapy while going through cancer treatment.


By Donna Jakowec

I realize now that it wasn’t just a journey to heal my body. It was also a journey to heal my emotional and mental state. Here are some highlights… and some lowlights. But I have come out the other side stronger.


Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016

My doctor’s office called. It was about the biopsy I had on my left breast last week. I went alone, as Jonathan was in Winnipeg on business. My GP [general practitioner] quietly said the words I was dreading. All of a sudden, I felt like I was in quicksand and everyone could see me going down, and no one could help me. When I got home, I burst into tears and kept saying to my kids, “Mommy has cancer.”


Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016

Today, I met the surgeon, Dr. John Lorimer. He spent a long time answering questions. Likely I’ll just have a lumpectomy. I felt much better after talking to him.


Monday, Nov. 7, 2016

Appointment with Dr. Lorimer. Jonathan came with me. There are two tumours, which is a game changer. This means a mastectomy. Surgery is in a week. No one knows. I haven’t told anyone at work or the rest of my family. I am the third with a breast cancer diagnosis: my mom and my sister, Laura. It feels like such a bad dream… Wake me up!


Monday, Nov. 14, 2016

Surgery day – I keep thinking, ‘I am living Laura’s nightmare’… She only lived three years. Is that my destiny too? Jonathan left, as he had to get the kids ready for school. The surgery went well. At home, there were two huge bouquets of flowers and chocolate from Jonathan.


Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016

Everyone was gone – the kids to school; Jonathan to work. I removed all the bandages. What a shock to see my breast gone! Big scar from my sternum to my rib.


Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016

Follow-up appointment with Dr. Lorimer. He gave me the pathology report. I cried when I got home because the flatness of my chest was obvious. I started wearing Jonathan’s dress shirts…very big, loose, so no one sees how misshapen I am.


Dec. 1 to 13, 2016

I decide that things are going to be normal for everyone. We still have skiing, music lessons, hockey, and school. The two kids caught me weeping a few times. It’s so upsetting for them. I went shopping for new clothes. And went back to work.


Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016

Appointment with medical oncologist Dr. Mark Clemons. Jonathan came with me. Dr. Clemons is very upbeat. Maybe things will be ok. He tells me the plan. I have an estrogen/progesterone sensitive cancer – bye-bye ovaries – and he doesn’t think chemotherapy will work for me. Radiation and hormone therapy instead. I won’t be losing my hair! Good thing, I just got my hair done!


Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017

First day of radiation treatment. I’ll have radiation every day for five weeks.


February 2017

I went to work almost every day throughout radiation. Definitely tired, but I read that doing light exercise takes the fatigue edge off. I started on my rowing machine or going out for a run on nice days.

Busy with the kids’ activities. I don’t talk about my cancer to anyone. I wake up at night and stay awake until morning, thinking this a bad dream.

Donna Jakowec with her family

Donna’s family joined her in The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre when she rang the bell after her last radiation treatment on March 6, 2017.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Last day of radiation and my family came to see me ring the bell. That night was my first feeling of abandonment. I hit some emotional wall. I started to panic but went to bed rather than say anything to anyone. I cried for half the night. I didn’t feel healed. I think of my sister every day and her breast cancer struggle, nothing worked for her at all. I started questioning this whole process. I decided to do more running because I do feel better afterward.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Took my first pill of Tamoxifen. Is this supposed to ward off cancer? Shouldn’t the pill be way bigger?  It’s so tiny!


March and April 2017

Things are busy at home. I never talk about my cancer. Jonathan doesn’t ask, neither do the kids. Everyone is doing well, which is what I want. I have feelings of panic and anxiety that I’ve never felt before. I’m anxious between doctor visits. I feel like the doctor visits are ‘islands’ of safety and health. But between appointments, I feel completely lost, like I have been thrown off the island and must swim to the next island, but I can’t swim very well.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Oophorectomy surgery – my ovaries were removed today. I asked Jonathan to drop me off at the [Irving Greenberg Family] Cancer Centre [run by The Ottawa Hospital but located] at the Queensway Carleton Hospital. I take the alone route, not wanting to bother anyone. The surgery went well. Everyone says I look good (for which I am grateful), but in my head, I feel as though I am falling apart.


Mid-May 2017

I’ve been oscillating between happiness and anxiety, never depressed but really anxious. I saw a brochure at the hospital on cancer support groups. I am having a huge problem concentrating on anything. My work is suffering. I get overwhelmed with multi-tasking. I’m afraid that I’ll have an accident.

I called and the session has started. But I can have a private session with someone at the psychosocial oncology services…I jumped at that.

Donna Jakowec with her dog

In addition to talking with a social worker in The Ottawa Hospital’s Psychosocial Oncology Services, Donna Jakowec coped with the mental and emotional stress of cancer treatments by running.

Saturday May 27, 2017

I ran the Ottawa Race Weekend 5 km race tonight! It was so hot, but I placed 89/374 for women in my age category. It was fun. Running really makes me happy!


Friday June 2, 2017

Went to the Nordik Spa with my mom friends. I’m on an emotional roller coaster again. I was loving the evening, and then it jumped into my head that I could die in three years…like my sister. I got big reassuring hugs, and stopped crying.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

11 a.m. appt. psychosocial oncology service at the cancer clinic [at the General Campus of The Ottawa Hospital]. I met social worker Karen McRae. I like her a lot. She is very patient and not irritated by my rambling on about how anxious I am between doctor appointments. We talked for an hour.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Had another appointment with the social worker. We also talked about me taking time for myself.


August 2017

Went on holidays. Lots of wind, rain, cold while camping but we were having so much fun, it didn`t matter. Focussing on what Karen said, taking time for myself and getting those around to help me. I am very bad about asking for help.

Donna Jakowec riding bike for cancer research charity

Donna Jakowec raised $2,500 for cancer research and cycled 117 kms in THE RIDE on Sept. 10, 2017 – another milestone in her cancer recovery journey.

Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017

I didn’t feel great, and tomorrow is THE RIDE fundraiser for The Ottawa Hospital. I’d signed up in May to cycle 117 kms. So many people sponsored me in this event, from family to Facebook friends that I have never personally met!


Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017

THE RIDE day – I got ready, but not sure I could do it. Figured I’d decide if I’m going to ride once I got there. At Tunney’s Pasture, where it starts, someone suggested I start out and if it’s too much, call for a pick up. So I get on my bike and go. The first 60 km were good, but then I started doubting if I could do it. Then this fella, Denis, rode with me and we chatted. The last 20 km went by very fast. Finally, I crossed the finish line. I cycled the full 117 kms!


Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017

Appointment with Dr. Clemons. He is kicking me to the Wellness Beyond Cancer program. I’m not happy about that. My doctor was my safety net. But I have no choice. So, I’ll give this wellness program a chance.


Thursday Nov. 23, 2017

I need to find a way to convince myself that for now everything is ok. Went to the Wellness Beyond Cancer program presentation. It’s going to be fine. I can do this. I’ve done so much this year. Treatment didn’t stop me from anything.


Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017

A wonderful day at the Nordik Spa with my co-workers. I never once thought about my cancer…finally!!!  Over the past year, I have gone from thinking I was going to die soon to realizing that I can live with this chronic disease, and that many women do very well. I’ve really got my life back…. thanks to The Ottawa Hospital… and for that I’m grateful.

Donna Jakowec stronger and healthier after treatment

Donna Jakowec came out the other side of her breast cancer treatment stronger and healthier.


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  • Barb Miller says:

    Thank you for sharing your amazing story Donna! Your strength shines through in the fabulous pictures.

  • Carolyn HAND says:

    I want to HUG you. You are amazing and strong.
    Way to fight.

  • Danielle says:

    Thanks for documenting the many feelings and emotions you go through as a cancer patient. I was diagnosed in May, 2017 and followed a similar path (lumpectomy, radiation, tamoxifen). Although a recent MRI shows no signs of remaining malignancy, I still have moments where the fear cancer will return pervade my thoughts. I think that fear will always be there in the background. I try to feel it and then let it go. It’s tough though… I too felt very fortunate to have been surrounded by an amazing team of doctors, particularly Dr. Angel Arnaout (surgeon), my first point of contact. She really was an angel with an AMAZING bedside manner and a way with words that was genuine and reassuring.

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